What To Do With Old, Toxic Make-up & Cleaning Products

So, you guys know I’ve been clearing out toxic products in our home.  And here’s just a little helpful tip I couldn’t resist sharing…

Instead of throwing products out or giving them to someone, try returning them to the store!  I thought this was such a long shot, but I gathered up all the old cleaning products that I had purchased from Costco that I have since learned to be toxic and I took them right up to the return counter.  The employee there didn’t flinch or ask a thing and just processed the returns.

I did the same thing at Sephora.  I took all my old, used Nars products back after I found out some of the lipsticks I used to wear rank in the top twenty for containing LEAD.  Again, they didn’t ask a thing and didn’t mind that the products were used and came without packaging and without a receipt.

The total amount of money I got back was $300+.

Not bad.

Plus, it just felt good.

And here’s a really great NY Times article:  Is There Danger Lurking in Your Lipstick? (Thanks, Abby!)

(image:  iStock via NY Times)

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  1. City Chick August 21, 2013 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Wow!! What a great idea. I am totally going to raid my cupboards tonight and start bringing things back. Thanks for the tip!


    • mara August 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm - Reply

      I know – me, too…I'm sure I could find some more toxic things to return.

  2. Sarah August 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Costco is notorious for having a great return policy, but that is great to hear about Sephora! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Utah Girl Am I August 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    What has been your replacement lip color? I'm not a lipstick person (I can't seem to keep the color on my lips!), but I LOVE Revlon's Just Bitten lipstains (though I'll have to check what chemicals are in those, too…). I'd love to hear any good, natural recommendations! Thanks, Mara! 🙂

    • Clare August 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      I would also like to know. You always have GREAT lipstick colours!

      Ps. I can't believe Burt's Bees is on that list! What on earth??

    • Stargirl August 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Red Apple lipstick is my favorite!!! GF, paraben/gross stuff free. The colors are lovely and they have eyeshadow and lipgloss too. It's only online, but the colors are true to the picture. AND you can mail in old lipsticks for a discount on some of theirs. AND you get a 20% off coupon every month as a VIP member. I just think they're great! (And I don't have to worry about kissing my celiac husband when I wear lipstick.)

    • mara August 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm - Reply

      My go-to lipsticks right now are from Ilia, 100% Pure, and Emani Minerals. Also, thanks, Stargirl, for the Red Apple recommendation!

  4. Lisa Riley August 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    Wow! How great to know that there are still companies that honor such returns!

  5. s.calder August 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Whoa! Good to know. I always felt like I couldn't pass on unclean things to people I care about and just throwing them away killed me.

  6. kh August 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    I'm loving all the natural beauty tips you're sharing! So helpful. Thank you.
    And congrats on determining your next step–IVF, again. How wonderful to feel comfort in knowing the right next step for your family!

  7. J {*sparklingly} August 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Wow, seriously? I can hardly believe any company would give you back money for an opened, used bottle of cleaner or makeup! What do they do with it? (I'm guessing they can't resell it…), and were there any raised eyebrows at Sephora? I'm scared to do it—–worried I'll get someone that'll look at me like I'm crazy! Eeek!

  8. Beth August 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Yeah, that's cool…I think a lot of companies nowadays record your purchases, so if you return a purchase you made w/your debit card then no receipt necessary. I know Target for sure does it too.

  9. Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    I really love your blog, but I don't think this is a great practice to encourage people to do. You didn't buy those things under false pretense- they didn't advertise them to be natural products, the ingredients were always fully disclosed. You purchased the products to use them, used them and then took them back to the store to get a full refund- not because the product was defective or broken, but for personal reasons.

    Retail stores that have high amounts of returns and merchandise loss can actually affect the store's bottom line and thus bonus potential of managers and some other employees. Its an unintended consequence of bogus returns, which these definitely are. I know the spirit and purpose of your blog and returning products that you used just because you want a lifestyle change and to score some extra cash doesn't seem to jive with the rest of your message.

    • mara August 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      I know – I've thought a lot about this…but I decided that if a company put LEAD in a product that is meant to be used over and over on someone's skin and near the mouth – and another company agreed to sell it, well – it truly is just unacceptable and even inhumane. It needs to stop. Same with the cleaning products and Bio Oil that ranks an 8 (!!) on the EWG website despite the company saying it's safe for use, including being rubbed twice a day on the abdomen during pregnancy. Another thing someone could do is call the company directly for a return. I think it's important to let these companies know that many of us realize now that their products are not safe.

    • Delona M. August 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      Well said. What if everyone returned their toxic products? That would certainly send a message!

    • Allison August 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Agree with both anonymous AND Mara, not sure with who I agree with more. But I feel like most major companies out there only TRULY care about making money, and that really needs to change.

  10. Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    This doesn't sit well with me either. Are companies donating your returned half-used products to someone who could use them, or are they throwing them out? I think giving them away, if possible, is a better option.

    • mara August 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Yeah, I agree that this is a sticky issue. I mean, do you give the products to some uninformed person even though the products are so toxic? It hardly feels like a favor. But likely the person doesn't care about toxins otherwise they would know to avoid certain products…so maybe you're saving them money and preventing more waste? Though in the case of the make-up, it isn't really reusable, so it would have gone in the trash anyway. Technically, most of these products are supposed to be disposed of with rubber gloves at a toxin removal center (even though they are made to go down your drain and be slathered on your skin daily!) Unfortunately, not sure if the companies involved dispose of the products properly. 🙁 All in all, there really are no good options here. All options are wasteful & harmful. I'm sorry that I ever bought these things and now am doing all I can to reduce waste and chemicals. My best change so far? I actually am cleaning 95% of my home now with just WATER. 🙂 It's been one of the best things I've ever decided to do.

      P.S. Regarding receiving money back…I figure that the money I received is now going towards companies who ARE mindful of waste and chemicals. I'd rather support them. I know I'm just one person, but I'm happy to do my part to make that switch and support better companies. If we all did that, we'd have a much safer environment all around. And I wouldn't mind if some companies got put out of business.

  11. Allison August 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    Wow, crazy! So how do you know if your makeup/hair/cleaning products are toxic? Are all products that don't say "all natural" dangerous in some way? I buy most of my products from a store like Target, are most of the brands they sell there not safe?

  12. Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Its a nice try at justification, but its still wrong. You are affecting innocent employee's bonus's who have nothing to do with the ingredients in the product. Should have done your homework BEFORE you bought and used the product, not after. If you feel you are doing it to affect change and not just get cash as you indicated, perhaps you would consider donating instead of using it for your personal use?

    • Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm - Reply

      The cash that is, not the products.

    • Anonymous August 22, 2013 at 3:23 am - Reply

      I'm a different anonymous. 🙂 The company who accepts the returns is in control here. They choose to accept a return or not. They set the policy. If their employees don't like the policy (because it affects their bonuses), then they certainly have the right to take some action about it. But if Costco (or whoever) has a policy allowing you to return partly used items for any reason, then you can and should take them up on it. It's not unethical. How could it be? They offer, you accept. That's bizzness, folks.

    • Anne August 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      That might be the current policy but companies could certainly change if it gets abused. It's worth thinking about.

  13. Erin August 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Oh no Mara! What are you gonna do? I love your lipstick shades and you inspired me to go bold! I would love to know what colors/brands etc. you are using to replace the old ones.

  14. SarahN @ livetolist August 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    OH is Cetaphil bad? I always thought it was better than so many other brands and types of products!

    I used to work at kmart returns – we don't flinch at much, we take almost anything (soiled clothing, no, and not if you're on our returns blacklist, which is usually for suspected shop lifters who take receipts from bins, then shop the store, then come to the returns counter).

    I don't think what you did was wrong – I think if this happened en masse, it would send a message to both the seller of the product (costco etc) and also the manufacturer, as I hope that some sellers go back to the product owner with returns stats. Yes, in a way, the 'system' is losing money and returning it to you, Mara, but I can't see that being cause for concern. What happens next with products is definitely a grey area, but we had bins in our returns counter!

    • Carrie August 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      I was wondering about Cetaphil too. I've used it for ages – I've been using olive oil/castor oil more, but I still have some. Just wondering if you can point us to any research you've found on it. Thanks!

  15. dervla August 22, 2013 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    seriously? I can't believe Sephora will take stuff back! Even used? Also love that you're cleaning your home with mostly water, i'm doing that too + some essential oils – and my apt smells amazing – added bonus!

  16. Julie August 22, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    Mara, it would be nice to hear your reviews/suggestions on organic household cleaning products. In case i missed a post about it and it's here there, do you mind posting a link:) thanks

    • mara August 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      YES! I would love to share what I'm using and doing now to clean. Some posts are in the works, though it usually takes me some time to get stuff out…but I think you'll love what I do: I use just WATER to clean 95% of my home. It's been the best thing I've ever done for our home & air.

  17. LH August 22, 2013 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    I have to respectfully disagree with some of the comments here.

    If a company is selling products that are toxic, than it's not us that owes them anything. It is these companies that owe us our health back! They can't undo the hazardous toxic body burdens we all carry as a result of their products. These companies spend MILLIONS to lobby congress to ensure that words like "healthy", "natural", and "pure" are not regulated so they can continue to falsely represent and GREENWASH their products.

    Let me put it another way. I hired a company to rebuild our chimney. Workers were sent to my home and they put in a lot of time and energy to build us a nice looking chimney. However, when I had the chimney inspected, we learned that the new chimney was faulty. Should I have paid them because they worked so hard? Or should I have expected them to meet some standards in return for my hard earned money?

    The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has worked tirelessly to get companies to pledge to clean up their acts. These companies cannot plead ignorance. They willfully choose not to do so and work very hard (and spend a lot of money) to maintain their status quo, all the while intentionally deceiving the average consumer. It's not right and we have it within our power to demand change through our financial decisions. So I have to agree with Mara. If the store you bought the product from has a return policy that would allow you to return products you aren't satisfied with, go for it!

    If you want to know more about the products you use, check out the Environmental Working Group's website: EWG.org They are the leaders in the field of advocating for changes to consumer products that will keep us and our children health(ier). And all their work is founded in science, not the latest trends or philosophies. You'll be amazed what you'll discover!

    Okay, I'll descend from the soapbox and hope you'll forgive my passion on the subject. 🙂

    • Anonymous August 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      Don't you dare descend from your soapbox! Well said!

    • MaeMae June 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      I completely agree with LH! If they are going to put poison in their products….they can have them right back 🙂 It really makes me mad when I hear about many companies leaving out the junk in the EU because the EU has stricter policies than the states….but we get all the toxins here. They make up a special poison batch just for us Americans 🙁

  18. H.M. August 23, 2013 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Hi, Mara. I so wish I could go all natural with my cosmetics! But, years ago, a fabulous NYC dermatologist helped me to discover that my acne-prone skin was a result of using products with oils (this includs extracts of every type). My skin reacts to this products by producing cystic acne. Yikes! Unfortunately, ALL all-natural products that are out there contain oils and/or extracts (the latter, especially). What's a girl to do? Seriously, though — if you or any of your readers can suggest cosmetic products without oils and extracts, I'm all ears.

  19. Anonymous November 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    I am curious if you wear perfume at all or is this part of the purging? Have you been able to find more natural options in the way of fragrances for the body. I am such a smell person that I really struggle with this! Any suggestions?

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